Friday, November 30, 2007

U.S. ship in Cambodia on medical, military mission

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- The United States' amphibious assault ship USS Essex arrived here on Monday morning to carry out medical, military and civic engineering missions in several provinces of Cambodia.

The staff members will carry out medical and dental operations for the civilians in Kampong Cham and Preah Vihear, civic engineering operation in Kampong Chhnang, military training with Cambodia's National Counter Terrorism Task Force and military exchange with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in Phnom Penh, as well as community relation construction programs in Sihanoukville, said a press release from the U.S. Embassy.

The six-day stay comes out of the interests of both sides and the U.S. hopes for stronger relations with Cambodia in the future,said Captain Brian T. Donegan.

On the ship, Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak told reporters that the arrival of the ship shows that the friendly relationship and cooperation between the two countries are deepened.

Piper Campell, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy, said that both sides will carry out more cooperation in the navy field and U.S. ship visits will continue in the coming times.

The 844-foot long, 44,000-ton vessel will stay in Cambodia until Nov. 2.

It is originally based in Japan, capable of transporting, deploying, commanding and supporting all elements of marine landing force of over 2,000 troops during an assault by air and amphibious craft.

Essex has been the second U.S. military ship that visited Cambodia this year. In February, the USS Gary guided missile frigate visited the kingdom and carried out civic mission in the country.

Sasebo-based Essex headed to Cambodia instead of Bangladesh

Stars and Stripes

Pacific edition, Wednesday, November 28, 2007

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS Essex was rerouted from a planned disaster relief mission to Bangladesh, the U.S. Navy announced Monday.

The Navy had planned to send Essex to help in the wake of Cyclone Sidr, which left at least 3,243 people dead and about 1,180 missing after it struck Bangladesh Nov. 15.

Instead, the USS Tarawa is headed to the area and will provide disaster relief, the Navy said.

The Essex will continue with its scheduled duties in the region. Monday it pulled into the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville, where sailors and Marines disembarked to give medical and dental aid to residents.

Essex’s visit to Cambodia marks the first time an amphibious assault ship has visited the country. Essex doctors and dental workers will treat Cambodians who “would otherwise have limited or no access to health care in some rural areas,” Senior Chief Petty Officer Mark Davison was quoted as saying in a Navy news release.

The ship’s roughly 2,500 sailors and Marines also are scheduled to participate in community relations projects and professional military exchanges, the Navy said.

“Essex sailors are honored to have the opportunity to visit the Kingdom of Cambodia as part of the broadening and deepening relations between our navies and our two governments,” Capt. Brian T. Donegan, Essex’s commanding officer, said in the release.

US Marine Carrier USS Essex Arrives in Cambodia

Source: United States Navy

Click for high resolution.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Andrew Brantley

Sihanoukville, Kingdom of Cambodia (Nov. 26, 2007) - A Landing Signal Enlisted (LSE) directs a CH-46E assigned to the 31st MEU ACE, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM-265) (Reinforced) to depart after Essex arrived in Sihanoukville, Kingdom of Cambodia, Nov 26. The Sailors and Marines on board are departing to one of the two Medical and Dental Community Action Projects scheduled during the port visit. Sihanoukville, Kingdom of Cambodia - Essex and the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) arrived in Sihanoukville, Kingdom of Cambodia, Nov 26, for a scheduled port visit that gives Sailors and Marines the opportunity to participate in friendship-building community relations events, medical and dental projects and professional exchanges. These friendship-building events are being conducted with the cooperation of Cambodian military and the Kingdom of Cambodia. The visit also provides Sailors and Marines the opportunity to meet local citizens and experience the customs and traditions of the Cambodian people. Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

Cambodia launches its first international golf tournament near famed Angkor temples

SIEM REAP, Cambodia: Australia's Adam Groom shot a 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead after Thursday's first round of the inaugural Cambodian Open.

The $300,000 (€203,340) Asian Tour event is being played on one of just three golf courses in the Southeast Asian nation, with Siem Reap the nearest town to the nation's main tourist attraction — the temple of Angkor Wat.

Groom fired eight birdies against a single bogey to lead by a shot from compatriot and roommate Mitchell Brown and America's Bryan Saltus.

India's Arjun Singh was a stroke further back at 5-under along with America's Anthony Kang.

Defending champion Chapchai Nirat of Thailand was among five players to shoot a 4-under 68 on the Phokeethra course.

The 28-year-old Groom said he was suited by the course and gained confidence after shooting four successive birdies on the outward nine.

"I carried on the momentum from then on and Im happy with my opening round result," Groom said.

Brown needs a good finish at this event if he is to retain his Asian Tour card for next year. With the top 60 finishes in the Order of Merit to receive cards for next season, Brown is currently 67th.

"This is the perfect start I need for this week," Brown said. "I hope to have a repeat run tomorrow if not its back to Qualifying School for me," said Brown.

The Cambodian Open is the penultimate event on the Asian Tour calendar.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen hit the ceremonial first shot to open the event, with the government hoping this event will further develop its embryonic tourism industry.

Tourism is a major foreign currency earner for cash-strapped Cambodia. There were 1.7 million foreign arrivals last year, and more than half of the tourists visited the Angkor temples.

Australian gold-mining operation begins in Kratie of Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Australian mining firm Southern Gold Ltd has begun drilling for gold in Cambodia's northeastern province Kratie, said a company press release received here on Thursday.

The firm has started its first drilling campaign in Cambodia at its 80-percent-owned Snoul Prospect, after completing a study at the site launched in 2006, said the release.

The company plans to drill eight 80 to 150-meter deep holes at the site over an area of 1,200 meters, and if the results are good, it will drill more.

The drilling will last for many weeks and the assay results are expected in early 2008.

Senior officials at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy could not be contacted to comment on the issue.

According to a previous study, stone debris taken from a number of places showed that there are gold ores of 7.6 grams to 71.2 grams per one ton of the stone debris.

World's only Flying Eye Hospital to come to Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- The ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital, the world's only airborne ophthalmic surgical and training facility housed inside a converted DC-10 aircraft, will arrive here next month for a two-week intensive medical training program.

This will be the first time for the Flying Eye Hospital to land in Cambodia, said an official press release received here Thursday.

The visit comes at the invitation of the Cambodian Ministry of Health and is supported by the National Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Blindness and the Cambodian Ophthalmological Society.

From Dec. 10 to 21, more than 75 Cambodian doctors and nurses will work side-by-side with an international medical team on board the Flying Eye Hospital and within the Preah Ang Duong Eye Hospital to restore the sight of the Cambodian blind people, said the release.

ORBIS International is a nonprofit global development organization dedicated to saving sight worldwide.

Since 1982, ORBIS programs have enhanced the skills of over 154,000 eye care professionals in 85 countries and have provided direct eye care treatment to more than 4.4 million people.

Cambodia faces immediate threats from climate change

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia faces immediate threats to its agricultural production and food security from climate change in rainfall, temperatures and availability of water, said the UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) 2007 released here on Thursday.

For most Cambodians live in rural areas and are reliant on agriculture, long-term risks associated with climate change include water insecurity, increased sea level, cyclones and disruption or collapse of Cambodia's critical ecosystems, said the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the report.

Climate change may increase occurrence of drought and flood while increasing the vulnerability of Cambodia's poor people to their effects, it said.

Increase of disease with climate change may have an adverse impact on people's health, particularly the most vulnerable poor, it said.

However, it said, climate change presents Cambodia many opportunities.

For example, it said, Cambodia can seek technical assistance and financial resources to promote climate change mitigation and adaptation, and mobilize private sector partnerships to transfer appropriate technologies to promote renewable energy in order to support the development of other sectors such as health, education, and transport.

With 0.2 percent of world's population, Cambodia accounts for a negligible percentage of global emissions, it said.

The country has signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol and as a developing country, Cambodia has no obligation to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, but can contribute to emission reduction on a voluntary basis, including through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), it said.

Cambodia ranks 131 out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) with its HDI value moving up from 0.543 to0.598 in the last five years, according to the report.

On the Global Warming Brink: Cambodia and Vietnam

"There Is Such a Thing as Being Too Late"

In a horrendous twist of fortune, the world’s poorest will bear the brunt of the wealthiest. Earlier this week, the United Nations revealed the most developed nations have once again failed to meet emission targets, and the third world will suffer. First in line: Cambodia and Vietnam, according to China's Xinhua General News Service.

With 0.2 percent of world's population, Cambodia accounts for a negligible percentage of global emissions. Yet, Cambodia faces immediate threats to its agricultural production and food security from climate change as rainfall and temperature fluctuation lead to a lack of water, according to the U.N.’s report.

Vietnam has already experienced rising sea levels, record temperatures, and unstable rainfall causing unpredictable phases of flood and drought. According to the Xinhua General News Service, flood-tides rose to 1.5 meters Tuesday night — the highest in 48 years. Hundreds have died in recent months, as repeated cyclone hits and heavy rainfall has led to deadly flooding.

As records continue to break, Cambodia and Vietnam call on wealthy nations to take immediate action. Martin Luther King’s quotation at the front of the United Nation’s report shall remind us: “there is such a thing as being too late.”

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Cambodian bar names drink after actress Angelina Jolie


Angelina Jolie has a big fan in Cambodia. A bartender at The Red Piano restaurant in Siem Reap.

When Angie was in the country shooting Tomb Raider in 2002 the mixologist created the cocktail in her honor. And it caught on.

The drink is still being offered at The Red Piano and contains a mix of vodka, Malibu rum and pineapple juice. Served with an umbrella of course.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

FBI Opens Office in Cambodia

By Regina Sass The FBI has announced the opening if its latest oversees office, which are actually called Legal Attaché or "Legat." It is opening in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and is one of more than 60 such offices around the world.

The head of the office, whose official title is Legat, will be FBI Agent Laro Tan, who was born in Cambodia and fled the Khmer Rouge with his family as a small child. He is a member of the diplomatic staff of the US Embassy in Cambodia and is his responsibility to build a productive working relationship with his counterparts in Cambodia.

These overseas offices play an important part in the FIB's investigative efforts. Just a few months ago, the FBI office in China worked with Chinese authorities to break up a counterfeit computer software organization that was operating in both countries. This led to arrests in both countries and the recovery of millions of dollars worth of counterfeit material.

Cambodia was chosen because the nearest office is in Bangkok, more than 330 miles away and in a different country. The new office in Cambodia will handle both Cambodia and Viet Nam.

Tan, who's regular assignment is to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate in Washington describes his Cambodia assignment as being very busy. He says he is constantly providing assistance to the office in the United states regarding threats that might migrate to U.S. shores. In his day to day operations, he works with the Cambodian National Police, and in Vietnam, the Interpol office of the General Department of the Police, a division of the Ministry of Public Security.

They have been working together even before the office was officially opened and have the help of the Cambodian Government in capturing a terrorist named Riduan Bin Isamuddin and back in 2000, a cooperative effort by the FBI and the Cambodian authorities led to the arrest of several freedom fighters who tried to overthrow the Cambodian Government. The United States does not have the authority to go into a foreign country, conduct investigations and make arrests. We need to have the cooperation of the host countries and their law enforcement agencies and it is through the Legat that the cooperation is achieved.

Tan looks at his mission to be one of getting to know his counterparts in both countries personally in order to build up new working relationships and expand on the ones already in place between the US and Cambodia and Viet Nam.

Source: FBI

United States Marines Visit Cambodia

By Jane Patrick According to the U.S. Marines, there was a planned port visit to Cambodia for members of the U.S. Navy and Marines. Members of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Command Amphibious Squadron 11 and USS Essex arrived in port recently. Cambodia is located next to Thailand and Viet Nam, and due to its location near the equator, is actually in the tropics.

The purpose of the visit was to give dental and medical care to citizens of Cambodia that do not normally have access to a doctor. They were also there to work on engineering projects, work with youth, deliver supplies, and talk with officials. Over 2,500 military personnel showed up for the event, and supplies such as clothes, toys, and books were brought in to help out.

"Over the course of the next week, Marines and Sailors coming from the Essex will conduct two medical and dental clinics, build two bridges and participate in six community relations projects," said Colonel John Mayer, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit commanding officer. "We will also (teach at) the National Defense University to help students with English and to understand our military forces."

The military members that are located in Cambodia have been given a budget for their work in the amount of $26,000 for building material, $2,000 for community events, and $10,000 for medical needs.

Military leaders and Government official talked and discussed the possibilities that could come from the goodwill of this visit.

The Cambodian U.S. Embassy deputy chief of mission, Piper Campbell, mentioned how this one visit would encourage a deeper friendship with the U.S. that will get stronger with more visits.

One of the pluses of the visit is that Cambodian citizens will have the opportunity to meet with the U.S. soldiers and get to know them better as people.

Campbell thanked the governor of Sihanoukville and the Government as a whole for helping to make this event happen, and Colonel John Mayer said he was grateful to be given the chance to come to the area.

"On behalf of all the Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, I would like to thank each and every one of you for having our Marines and Sailors visit the Kingdom of Cambodia," said Mayer, to members of the Royal Government of Cambodia, during a visit to the Essex

Mayer went on to mention that the troops were eager to visit the area and see the opportunity that lies before them.

The Cambodia Theater Security Cooperation was set up to create better relations between the Cambodian people and the U.S.

31st MEU, USS Essex Marines, Sailors arrive in Cambodia to foster relations, U.S. Marines

Geography-Cambodia, Tourism of Cambodia

Australian gold mining firm begins drilling in Cambodia

Nov 28, 2007, 10:37 GMT

Phnom Penh - Australia's Southern Gold Ltd has commenced mining for gold in north-eastern Cambodia, the company said Wednesday.

In a statement also released to the Australian Stock Exchange, Southern Gold said it had started 'its first drilling campaign in Cambodia' at its 80-per-cent-owned Snoul Prospect in the south-eastern province of Kratie.

Southern Gold and another Australian mining giant, Oxiana Ltd, have taken out adjoining lots in the remote area with both reporting promising pre-drilling exploration findings on gold and base metals. Oxiana already operates the massive Sepon gold mine in neighbouring Laos.

Southern Gold - which like Oxiana also mines for base metals, including lead and zinc - said it expected first assay results in early 2008.

Environmentalists have expressed concern as mining companies flock to newly opened Cambodia, concerns the Cambodian government has said are unfounded.

Chinese mining companies are exploring for iron ore in the country's north, and Australia's BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, has reported promising finds in initial explorations for bauxite in the eastern province of Mondulkiri and also has interests in as yet untapped anticipated off-shore oil reserves.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cambodia's counterfiet goods markets

Thailand's counterfeit pipeline: Porous borders, government inaction allow bogus goods to travel the world

Monday, November 26, 2007; Posted: 03:20 PM

ARANYAPRATHET, Thailand, Nov 26, 2007 (The Columbus Dispatch - If not for the deep-fried scorpions on the dusty food court's menu, you might think you were at Easton Town Center.

The sprawling, open-air Rong Kluea market has all of the familiar clothing brands found at any top-flight U.S. mall: Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale, American Eagle, Gap, Hollister, J.Crew, Justice, Victoria's Secret Pink and more.

But take a good look, because what you see is rarely what you get in this backwater bazaar along Thailand's border with Cambodia.

Over there, twisting on a hanger in a shop with folding tables on a dirt floor, is a green Abercrombie hoodie. From a distance, it's unremarkable. But up close, it's clear the garment has no sewn-in labels and is finished with a Puma-brand zipper.

"In this whole market, there's nothing legal," says a woman hawking rack upon rack of questionable Abercrombie & Fitch merchandise. As if to prove the point, she's wearing a baggy Gap T-shirt, an obvious no-no for a real Abercrombie salesperson.

To lend an air of authenticity to her wares, she keeps a loose-leaf binder with color images printed from the Abercrombie Web site. They look good. Through an interpreter, she says her merchandise is the real thing, stolen from authorized Abercrombie factories in Cambodia.

She could be telling the truth, but none of these customers -- a combination of Asians and Western tourists -- seems to know, or care.

What's undeniable is that Thailand is awash in counterfeit goods, the production and sale of which cost legitimate companies $600 billion a year in lost sales.

Experts consider Thailand, a country of 65 million, to be the primary staging point for counterfeit goods produced in China, where up to 90 percent of the world's knockoffs are made. Organized gangs with financial ties to Hong Kong and Taiwan are behind much of Asia's trade in fakes.

Before communist China opened its borders to extensive trade with the outside world, Thailand was a regional center in the production of counterfeit goods, especially clothing. But counterfeiters are subject to the same market forces that draw legitimate manufacturers to China -- low wages, a huge work force and undervalued currency.

With a central location and modern ports and airports, Thailand remains an ideal transit hub for black-market goods. It also helps that Thailand shares borders with countries that don't place a premium on intellectual property rights: Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar, formerly Burma.

Observers said that officials in Thailand's military-led government are looking the other way.

"Stopping counterfeiting is a difficult proposition in any case, but adding in corruption makes some producers virtually untouchable," said a Western diplomatic source in Thailand who asked not to be named for fear of political retribution.

Rong Kluea and similar markets in the capital, Bangkok, cater to tourists and middlemen from Europe, Asia, North America and elsewhere. What's not purchased in Thailand is shipped to distributors in third countries or sold piecemeal to consumers over the Internet.

Abercrombie & Fitch, which has no stores in Asia and only one in Europe, is blatantly knocked off here. The New Albany company, whose brands include Hollister and Ruehl, says eight of the top 10 resellers of its goods on eBay are likely based in Thailand, peddling fakes made in China.

Thailand's central role in the fakes trade earned it a place of dishonor on the U.S. government's 2007 survey of intellectual property-rights violators worldwide. After 14 years off the list, Thailand was labeled one of the world's worst offenders last spring, joining perennial pirates China and Russia, and nine other nations.

"We agree that we have a problem with intellectual property; if you walk the streets, you can see it," said Woranuj Maneerungsee, a reporter with the Bangkok Post. Her newspaper editorialized last spring that Thailand deserved its ranking and needed to clean up the counterfeit markets.

In Thailand's huge open-air markets, knockoffs aren't even being swept under the rug, let alone cleaned up.

Rong Kluea rivals a state fair in scale, with hundreds of vendors in semi-permanent stalls hawking clothes and household goods. Farm animals and wooden pushcarts add ambience and serve as the primary means for moving illicit goods in and out.

There's little pretense or effort to create the illusion of legitimacy. In one vendor's pushcart, phony Rolex and Omega watches compete for space with dried mushrooms and Thai spices.

Ever wonder where a knockoff Burberry purse might come from? Quite possibly this market, in stalls with tarps for walls, where children eat lunch off mats on the ground while women sew copies of the designer brand's distinctive plaid fabric onto generic Chinese-made bags.

Prices are less than a fourth of what legitimate designer goods would cost in the States. Tour buses from all over Thailand and Cambodia -- adorned with unlicensed Disney characters Mickey, Donald and Piglet -- ply the dusty parking lots on both sides of the border, unloading eager bargain hunters.

There's no sign of Jiminy Cricket. He could be among the bucketfuls of insects and small reptiles destined for the food court's deep fryer.

Dangerous products

Counterfeiting does more than rob companies of sales and support organized crime, child labor and terrorism.

Knockoffs also can damage brand images and hurt consumers.

Fakes sold as real products frequently are made from outdated, dangerous, leftover or stolen components that convey just enough legitimacy to fool unwary -- or indifferent -- consumers.

And while it's one thing for a pair of fake Nike shoes to fall apart prematurely, the stakes are much higher when products can harm consumers.

"It's a real problem when you're talking about safety," said Robert Crane, lead enforcement specialist of anti-counterfeiting operations for Underwriters Laboratories Inc. in Chapel Hill, N.C.

"You can be electrocuted or your house can burn down," he said. "You can die."

Underwriters Laboratories, a nonprofit testing service known by its UL mark on a variety of electrical products, maintains a force of 1,800 inspectors who do nothing but monitor factories around the world.

Their weapon of choice is a high-tech tag, and all Chinese-made lighting products sold in the United States, including extension cords and holiday light strands, must have one affixed to the product itself.

The tags are made in one secure U.S. location, display a hologram and have other internal security features, said Brian Monks, UL's vice president of anti-counterfeiting operations.

Even so, counterfeiters slap phony UL labels on electrical products made with insufficient amounts of copper. Fake circuit breakers look like the real thing but may not trip when overloaded. All of these products can and have burst into flames, Crane said.

While consumers may not be able to tell a real label or product from a fake, he said, be wary of:

--Any product that mentions UL on the carton or product but gives no company name or address.

--Any product with UL on the packaging but not the product itself.

--Shoddy workmanship or cheap packaging.

--Any electrical product significantly marked down and sold by street vendors or at flea markets and deep discount stores.

Counterfeiters also knock off millions of batteries in China for export around the world, said Donna Frazier Schmitt, senior trademark counsel for Energizer, based in St. Louis.

They frequently contain high levels of mercury, and many don't have the built-in ventilation that keeps branded batteries from overheating or exploding, she said.

The logo on Energizer's popular Eveready brand is a black cat jumping through a 9. The company has been fighting a Chinese imitator using the Everpower name. Its batteries feature a skinny black jaguar jumping through an 8.

A busy consumer might not notice the difference.

Most Everpowers are sold in Asia and the Middle East, but some reach the United States every year.

"It can be really hard to tell a real from a fake, but we pursue counterfeits wherever we find them," Frazier Schmitt said. "Consumers can be disappointed with counterfeits, and that translates to disappointment with our brand."

Wild West of fakes

Rusty Lerner is one of Southeast Asia's top private eyes and an expert on counterfeiting. The former Houston resident, who has an Asian studies degree from Yale, has lived in Bangkok for 18 years. Today, he runs Quantico Ltd., one of the largest private investigation shops in the region.

With 35 employees, his business is booming.

"China has taken over most of the manufacturing (of legitimate and illicit goods) because the labor there is just so cheap," he said.

While Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have plenty of factories, those countries increasingly serve as conduits for Chinese-made goods pouring into Thailand.

Ray Tai, a Hong Kong-based lawyer responsible for policing adidas brands in Asia, can attest to the recent change. "They all have their counterfeit goods, but in the past couple of years, the Chinese counterfeiting machine has basically wiped them off the map."

Lax border controls and little or no enforcement of intellectual property rights by Thailand's neighbors ensure a steady supply of goods. Lerner says dozens of rural villages make their living from the counterfeit trade.

Quantico advises companies with factories in the region on "supply-chain management." It involves knowing who makes your product, their suppliers and anyone involved in distribution. Mattel's recent problems with lead paint on Chinese-made toys underscored the need for strict controls of supply chains.

In addition to apparel, Quantico tracks fake food products, cell phones, printer components and auto parts.

Criminals throughout Asia fool consumers by filling used ink cartridges with generic ink and putting them in Hewlett-Packard boxes.

"The profit margin on ink cartridges is better than heroin," Lerner said.

And they're a safer bet for criminals. Counterfeiters in Thailand, China and other parts of Asia rarely get jail time.

"The penalty is often death for narcotics, whereas if you're a counterfeiter, people say, 'OK, you're just a businessman,' " said Daniel C.K. Chow, an Ohio State University law professor and a counterfeiting expert. The lack of enforcement is the main reason the trade flourishes as never before, he said.

In an effort to boost tourism, Thailand has liberalized visa procedures, allowing foreign nationals from 154 countries to easily enter the country without a visa or to obtain one on arrival.

People certainly come and go with ease along the Thai-Cambodian border, and they know how to work the system.

"It's like a flow of ants," Lerner says. "People cross the border all day with two fake cell phones at a time. Two phones are considered personal use."

For those who want to minimize trips, it's not hard to slip through holes in the border fence. Conveniently, border guards patrol the area just twice a day.

"People know when that is," he said, "and they just go back and forth."

Lerner can make the drive from his office in Bangkok to the Rong Kluea market in just over three hours. On one recent visit, he was flagged down for speeding and solicited for a bribe by the police officer. Lerner declined to pay. After some back and forth, he was allowed to proceed without a ticket.

"He didn't want to do the paperwork," Lerner said.

That attitude is typical of what Western companies face in the fight to protect intellectual property in a country where law enforcement can be sporadic and arbitrary.

"We don't expect piracy to be wiped out overnight; however, we would like the Thai government to have a plan for how to better protect intellectual property and make a greater effort to enforce their laws," the Western diplomatic official said.

On the return trip from Rong Kluea to Bangkok, Lerner pulled off the highway to see what two smiling boys were cooking up in their pushcart: grilled field rat.

"It tastes better than chicken," one said. Lerner politely passed.

Not far from the boys, in the middle of rice paddies and forests in Thailand, he happened upon a little restaurant in the courtyard of a private home. On the other side of a dirt road, two oxen lounged in a bog.

A waitress approached, wearing a Louis Vuitton fanny pack. Either tips are quite good in this remote outpost, or it's a fake.

Abercrombie & Fitch, which has no stores in Asia and only one in Europe, is blatantly knocked off in Asia. The New Albany company, whose brands include Hollister and Ruehl, says eight of the top 10 resellers of its goods on eBay are likely based in Thailand, peddling fakes made in China.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

China Eastern Airlines opens new route to Phnom Penh

KUNMING, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- China Eastern Airlines, one of the country's largest carriers, has opened a new route from the southwestern city of Kunming to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a company spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Since early November, three regular flights per week have flown to the southeast Asian nation's capital, and a CRJ-200 with a capacity of 50 passengers has been used for the new air service, said Wang Qian, a spokeswoman for the company's Yunnan branch in southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Flights take off from Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, at 7:15 a.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and arrive in Phnom Penh at 10:40 a.m. local time, she said.

Return flights leave Phnom Penh at 11:30 a.m. local time the same day, she said.

The flights make a stopover in the southern Chinese city of Nanning for 40 minutes.

"The new air service will help boost the travel market of Yunnan and Cambodia and also economic exchanges between the two countries," she said.

Cambodia's investment forum

Standing room only at investors forum

By Susan Postlewaite

Representatives of foreign companies who registered to attend the 5th Business Roundtable heard much about the new Cambodia - the one that's stable, business friendly, endowed with natural riches and anxious to please.

Nearly 600 people, about half from abroad, attended the Nov 7-8 conference sponsored by businesses and development organizations to promote trade and infrastructure investment.

With a slogan of "the right place, the right time, for the right investment" all the top ministers in Cambodia dealing with money were on hand. Prime Minister Hun Sen, while encouraging foreign investment, warned that the government is not going to release control of many types of industries that often come up for privatization elsewhere.

"You can do it in your country, not in Cambodia," he said, referring to the customs service.

"We will not privatize the Customs House," said Hun Sen. "Why not sell the rights to the prime minister? Then the army, then the police." He complained that an American consultant was paid $15,000 a month to advise Cambodia on re-making customs and it was recorded as American aid.

Briefly mentioning the new oil exploration off shore from Sihanoukville, Hun Sen confirmed rumors in announcing that "a discussion between investment partners"
Investment for a 2.5 million ton capacity oil refinery in Sihanoukville by 2010 is underway. He did not identify the investment partners.

An oil refinery - with or without state ownership - is a controversial topic. "There's no doubt that the government wants an oil refinery but it's a very bad move," said Oxfam America's extractive industries program officer Warwick Browne. "Exporting crude to Singapore is a better option."

Hun Sen also said he wants a national airline to succeed defunct Royal Air Cambodge, but not a privatized carrier. It was unclear whether a joint venture investment with private investors is on the table.

Senior government officials described other projects in need of funding, particularly power generation plants, road building, railroad concessions and agro-industry.

According to Cambodia Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh, Cambodia's major handicap in getting foreign investment is the high price of electricity, which at 20 to 25 cents per kilowatt hour is two or three times as high as neighboring Vietnam and Thailand.

He said the government is considering special economic zones on the border of Thailand and Vietnam where companies could buy cheaper electricity and still do business on Cambodian soil.

Mining of bauxite, gold , iron and gems was also touted as a good opportunity for foreign investment.Meanwhile, deals were working on the sidelines.

New investment

An official of Raptor Energy said he is hoping to soon sign a deal for a 14-hectare concession in Kampot for a palm oil plantation. "We're aiming over a period of five years to build out up to 50,000 hectares of oil palm plantations," said executive chairman Robert Brough.

He said Raptor Energy, founded as a bio-energy firm, will decide what to produce when the first crop comes in after three years. "We'll be making the decision then as to whether to use if in the food sector on [in] energy." He said they bought an existing concession and will invest a total of $55 million in the venture.

Officials of Leopard Group, one of the conference sponsors, said they are raising investment for a $100 million private equity fund called the Leopard Cambodia Fund that would invest in select businesses in Cambodia. Peter Brimble, of Leopard Group, said there were 30 to 40 investment bankers at the conference and "most are really serious about investing in Cambodia."

"The stock market is going to play a very important role in the development of Cambodia," said Brimble. He said once the electricity problem is solved, the garment sector would resume its growth.

James Machin, an environmental scientist with Melbourne based Earth Systems, was looking around for opportunities in environmental consulting possibilities related to the new drilling and mining. "Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Should we get a project first, or set up first and then get a project?" he said.

Scouting for business

Earth Systems already operates in Laos, where Australia mining company Oxiana is exploring for copper and gold. Oxiana is also exploring in Mondulkiri. "With all of these projects, we're assessing the demand for environmental services to international standards," he said.

A representative of GE Security came to analyze the demand for advanced security systems such as airport screening. "But I don't know if they are ready for this yet," says Paul Sun, sales director for Asia based in Singapore.

Local entrepreneurs were scouting business. Kevin Britten, managing director of The Secretary, an office services firm in Phnom Penh, said paid attendance at the conference was impressive, and he had appointments with some of the visitors. "We work with startups. It can be a tough town to come into," he explained.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon said new investment is anticipated in the banking and insurance sectors. Four foreign insurance companies are doing a feasibility study on whether to establish a life insurance company in Cambodia and the government is looking to develop a "micro-health insurance" company for small buyers, he said.

One potent message came from the chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association, Van Sou Ieng. "Cambodia is moving. Land, plenty of space, few licenses to apply for. Come now or it will be too late," Ieng said.

Corruption question

But also on the sidelines, some of the business people wanted to know about that old Cambodia? What's caused the big change? And what about the corruption issue. Cambodia continues to rank among the highest in the world on the Transparency International's list of the countries perceived to have the most corruption. Should foreign investors care?

The question never reached open discussion.. "Business just buys into it," said one western banker, referring to the outlook for poverty reduction and better transparency in government operations described by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An in his speech.

Sok An said that the government plans to spend the revenues the government receives from oil production - estimated at $174 million beginning in 2011 - on "clean water and education".

The claim was hard to believe. "But there are 600 people here. What does that tell you," the banker said. "Obviously it is a turning point."

Cambodia to form new national carrier

The Cambodian government signed a joint venture agreement with two Indonesian companies Friday to form a new national airline to tap the country's growing tourism industry.

The new airline, which has yet to be named, is expected to begin flying in six months, the partners said.

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An signed a memorandum of understanding for the joint venture with officials from two Indonesia-based companies, the Rajawali Group and PT Ancora International.

"We will create an airline the country will be proud of," he said.

The new airline will be Cambodia's national flag carrier, its first since tough competition and mismanagement forced Royal Air Cambodge to shut down over five years ago. Air travel to and from Cambodia is currently dominated by foreign-owned airlines.

The Indonesian partners' businesses include cigarettes, cement, telecommunications, hotels, resorts, extractive minerals and airlines, a joint statement said.

The government will hold a 51 percent share in the new venture and its partners 49 percent, it said.

But since the two foreign firms are responsible for providing the capital for creating the new airline, they are entitled to total 70 percent of potential profit while the remaining 30 percent will go to the government, the statement added.

Peter Sondakh, chairman and CEO of Rajawali Group, declined to discuss other financial details of the new airline when asked by reporters.

But he said it will operate with "better aircraft and better service" to compete with foreign airlines.

"We envisage more and more travelers coming to Cambodia, and the new national carrier will become indispensable for the tourism market," said Vichit Ith, managing director of PT Ancora International.

Cambodia received 1.4 million visitors between January and September this year, up nearly 19 percent from the same period of 2006, according to statistics of the Tourism Ministry, which has also forecast that total tourist arrivals this year will exceed last year's 1.7 million.

Cambodia's airports construction and growth

Muhibbah rides on Cambodia’s tourism boom

ALL of Muhibbah Engineering’s (RM3.48) divisions — construction, cranes, shipyards and the Cambodian airports — are enjoying strong double-digit growth rates and a favourable operating outlook, as we have noted in our previous update. Its success in clinching new contracts is testament to its reputation, competence and competitive advantage.

Today, we take a look at its Cambodian operations, which are enjoying robust growth as the country undergoes a major tourism boom. Growth will be further anchored by expansion plans in the Siem Reap airport and the opening of a third airport in Sihanoukville in mid-2008. We will take a closer look at its other divisions next week.

Robust growth at airports
Muhibbah’s Cambodian airport operations are held by 30%-owned Societe Concessionaire des Aeroports (SCA). The remaining 70% is held by French construction conglomerate Vinci.

SCA was awarded the concession for the international airport in Phnom Penh in 1995 and Siem Reap in 2001. Both concessions were originally scheduled to end in 2020, but have since been extended to 2040 following the award in 2006 of a third international airport, in Sihanoukville.

The airport operations are enjoying robust growth, reflecting the increasing popularity of Cambodia as a tourist attraction with new direct flights, low-cost flights, and the increasing popularity of the world-famous Angkor Wat temples, a Unesco World Heritage site.

For the first six months of 2007, international passenger arrivals at the two airports rose a hefty 36% year-on-year (y-o-y) from 1.25 million in 1H2006 to 1.69 million passengers in 1H2007. This was propelled by the Siem Reap airport, where international passenger arrivals surged 41% y-o-y from 640,000 to 902,000. Arrivals at the Phnom Penh airport rose 30% from 605,000 to 787,000.

International passenger arrivals rose 26% for the two Cambodian airports last year. Arrivals in 2006 totalled 2.683 million, compared with 2.121 million in 2005. In 2006, international passenger arrivals at the Siem Reap airport surged 31% to 1.36 million, while Phnom Penh airport arrivals rose 22% to 1.323 million.

The Siem Reap airport is shaping up to be among the world’s fastest growing airports — albeit from a low base. In 2006, its passenger arrival growth of 31% eclipsed that of global passenger growth of 4.9% and an average 9.7% growth for passenger arrivals at other Asian airports.

Airport expansion plans
To cope with rising passenger traffic, there are plans to expand the Siem Reap airport — whose new international terminal was opened just in August 2006. The terminal was built to handle up to two million passengers per year, but passenger arrivals are expected to top that level by next year.

Expansion plans will cost fairly little as the airport terminal is essentially arranged in resort-style single-storey modular structures centred around courtyards. Additional modular structures can be added to the existing ones at very low costs and without disrupting the existing structures or operations.

Meanwhile, the Sihanoukville International Airport, its third airport concession, is expected to open in mid-2008. The old terminal has been kept intact and renovated, while works are ongoing to expand the runway to cater for regional flights. As of mid-2007, US$16 million (RM54 million) has been invested in the airport.

Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s only deep-sea port and a major beach resort town. It houses many of Cambodia’s industries as well as an emerging oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Thailand. With enhanced air transportation links, Sihanoukville will be promoted as a major beach resort and industry base.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Cambodia eyes stock market for capital


Until recently, the buzzwords of hope for lifting Cambodia out of dire poverty were "offshore oil."

Now come new ones -- "securities market" -- that the government hopes will draw international capital to this tiny country and help it expand the economic base beyond the clothing industry, which has been Cambodia's main moneymaker so far.

Last month, senators passed a law on the issuance and trading of stocks and bonds in the latest move to prepare the country for establishing its first stock market by 2009.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon says the country needs a stock market to diversify the way businesses raise money. So far, beyond international aid for development projects, most financing has come from banks.

But he acknowledged that it will take some time for Cambodian entrepreneurs and the public to accept the idea of a stock market -- particularly the requirement that all companies' bookkeeping would be open to scrutiny.

"It is like entering exams with a strict standard. Some firms could be reluctant to be part of it," Keat Chhon said.

Companies will not be allowed to sell shares if their accounting is not certified by independent auditors, he said.

Neighboring Vietnam started its stock market in July 2000, and it has been a big success, both for companies and investors.

"There's always complaints made that capital is hard to get in Cambodia," said Bretton Sciaroni, an American lawyer running a law firm in the capital, Phnom Penh. "The banks are very liquid but it's all short-term money that the banks have, and it makes it difficult for long-term projects."

For investors, the country's junk-level credit ratings suggest it is a risky bet because of its weak oversight and rampant corruption.

The economy, while growing at more than 11 percent annually during the past three years, is small and largely driven by just one industry, textiles, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of exports. The other key industries are tourism, construction and agriculture, and telecommunications is a promising area.

"The very weak state of governance -- in terms of overall effectiveness of government operations, regulatory quality and rule of law -- adversely affect Cambodia's credit fundamentals," Thomas Byrne, a vice president of Moody's Investors Service, said in a statement in May.

Until Cambodia is able to broaden its economic base, "it will remain vulnerable to domestic and external shocks," he said.

Moody's gives the country's government bonds a credit rating of "B," five rungs below investment grade. Standard & Poor's put Cambodia at "B+," four levels below investment grade.

U.S. energy giant Chevron Corp.'s discovery of offshore oil in the Cambodian seabed last year has triggered hope that the country could benefit from that income. But it is not clear yet if the oil will be commercially viable or when it can be tapped.

Cambodia needs to move beyond relying only on international aid and banks loans, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in early September at the launching of the stock exchange plan.

Those two sources are "still not sufficient to fulfill enormous capital demand of the Cambodian capital-hungry economy," he said, adding that banks loans last year totaled about $500 million.

The creation of a stock market would likely boost foreign direct investment, which last year totaled just $483 million, compared with $2.3 billion and $9.7 billion in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand respectively, according to the U.N.'s World Investment Report 2007.

Local business executives appear to be positive -- and perhaps somewhat cautious -- about setting up a local bourse.

"Having a stock exchange is a good idea. Companies and the public can benefit by taking part in it," said Kith Meng, president of Royal Group, which includes Mobitel, the country's biggest mobile phone service provider. "But I will have to see first."

To be listed on the exchange, companies will be required to submit their balance sheets for auditing and stamping by certified professional accountants, government officials say.

In Channy, the CEO of Acleda Bank PLC, a leading commercial bank in the country, says his company has already been making its financial reports public on its Web site for some time.

That's "our bank's obligation to let our partners and clients know about our situation," he said. "We have no fear to participate in a stock market."

Last month, the government began requiring some 400 enterprises to submit their financial statements to independent auditors by December -- one of a series of steps the government says is necessary for a successful opening of a stock market.

To develop an exchange, Cambodia has turned for aid to South Korea, which has provided $1.8 million to set up an exchange and train personnel.

But Sam Rainsy, the country's former finance minister and main opposition leader, warns that most Cambodian companies have questionable business practices.

"There are few companies that meet international standards. But the rest are rather dubious if not controversial companies, which are here doing business not in a transparent manner but rather (through) friends and cronies of political establishment," he said.

"I am afraid that many potential stock holders will be cheated by stock manipulation" such as insider trading, said Sam Rainsy, the president of Sam Rainsy Party. "Big risk. They will be victims of manipulation."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cambodian observations

Some facts about Cambodia - this will cheer you up

It's hard to believe, but in 1969 Cambodia had a higher per capita income and received more tourists than Thailand.

Now, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the region. Overall, Australia is more than 70 times richer (GDP per capita) . Thailand is six times richer; Vietnam is 50% richer.

The rate of poverty in Cambodia is 3 times greater than in Vietnam. Poverty levels in Thailand are negligible by comparison. Poverty here has fallen over the last decade, but is still high. In 2004, 35% of Cambodians were living on less than US$0.50 per day (a higher proportion than Uganda). Only 40% of Cambodians had access to clean water.

Although I see a lot of poverty in Phnom Penh - there are people sleeping on the streets near where I live - the majority of Cambodia's poor live in rural areas.

Health and education have improved, but outcomes are still either the lowest in region or above only Laos and Myanmar. Compared with the average Australian infant, a baby born in Cambodia is 22 times more likely to die before its 1st birthday.

Income inequality is very high (even by south-east asian standards). This is at least partly a result of the local elite capturing so much of the foreign aid and tax revenue. Corruption is endemic right through Cambodian society. You can buy a licence to operate a medical practice for $1,500. Police buy their jobs. Even a worker in a garment factory often has to pay the supervisor $50 to $75 to get the job (about one month's pay). The share of revenue that firms pay in bribes is twice the rate paid in Bangladesh. I've heard that one Senior Government Minister pays the Prime Minister US$4 million per year for his position. There are more ministers than there are members of parliament (not sure how that works!). Senior politicians, their relatives, and members of the military control Cambodia's extensive illegal logging.

At least the influence of decades of civil war is becoming increasingly subtle. 60% of the population is aged under 26 and therefore were born after the Khmer Rouge period. There is increasing awareness of concepts of individual rights, the rule of law and the accountability of government.

Things are moving in the right direction: poverty has fallen by a quarter since 1994. This is a "peace dividend". Whether it can fall by as much again, or more, remains to be seen. Cambodia appears to me to be anything from 10 to 50 years behind Vietnam. Things should continue to improve, but I expect real progress is a generation away.

But come and see for yourself. I promise it won't be as bad as this all sounds!

Cambodia: Year Zero from John Pilger

I bumped into this 52-minute video quite some time ago and today I posted it hoping to share it with those of you who have not seen it. It was a recommended video on Google Video when i revisited it today. The video was produced by John Pilger, a world-renowned journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, who began his career in 1958 in his homeland, Australia, before moving to London in the 1960s.

The video tells of how Khmer Rouge made their way to power in April 1975. It’s a video you never want to miss, folks!

Cambodia’s Coast of Utopia

Languidly reclining under a beach umbrella at the Sokha Beach Resort after a dip in the sea, a lithe woman in a bikini on the beach chair next to me sits up and decides to write postcards. Like Dorothy waking up in Oz, she looks around to get her bearings. There are no signs, no landmarks, just a glimmering ocean, an empty white-sand beach and the clear blue sky. This could be Thailand or Bali. In fact, it could be anywhere hot, exotic.

The woman turns to her friend. “Where are we?” she asks, in French. Her friend isn't sure, either, and slowly stirs for some reminder in her beach bag. She finds the hotel key card and squints to read it. “Sihanoukville,” the friend says.


“S-i-h-a-n-o-u-k,” she spells out, “ville.”

Could this really be Cambodia? A peaceful, palm-fringed beach resort far removed from the challenging magnificence (and tourist crush) of Angkor Wat and the palaces and war memorials of the capital, Phnom Penh? Indeed, the country's idyllic southern coast comes as something of a surprise to the travelers who have lately started arriving here — not to mention those, like me, who remember what it was like in the not-so-distant past.

When I last sat on this same beach 15 years ago, on a break from my work as a correspondent in Phnom Penh, it was a deserted sandy stretch backed by a crumbling stone retaining wall. I remember swimming here at night with a friend in waters aglow with bioluminescent plankton. A pocked road unmaintained for decades extended between the long-needled weeping pines leaning over the beach and a line of tall gum trees. The trees are still here, but the road now diverts inland. On the Sokha's manicured lawns I can trace in the grass where it used to be, the gum trees now shading a brick walkway and a playground. Updated and renewed, yet still unspoiled.

As peace and a measure of prosperity have come to Cambodia, the government has identified the southern coast as a key to diversifying tourism — which for years has almost entirely been focused on Angkor — and travel agents have begun suggesting a few days on the beach as part of their Cambodia packages. The highway from the capital, three and a half hours away by car, has been paved with American aid money and is now safe and easy to navigate, even at night. (When I used to drive it, soldiers with AK-47s would step out onto the road to stop the cars, already slowed to a crawl by craters and washed-away pavement, to demand money and cigarettes. It was an all-day, occasionally scary affair.)

Occupancy at the Sokha resort is nearly twice what it was last year, its general manager, Pierre Bernard, says, and scouts from Four Seasons have reportedly come looking for a beach to develop. The old Independence Hotel, Sihanoukville's premier resort in the 1960s, recently completed its own makeover and now rivals the Sokha as the town's most luxurious beachfront digs. “This place is going nuts. It's really booming,” Fred Tittle, the founder of EcoSea Dive, told me one night over a dinner of fresh steamed grouper at the seaside restaurant Treasure Island. “Thailand, everybody's been there and done that,” he said. “There's no buzz about it anymore. Here people can go back home and say, ‘Yeah, southern Cambodia. I've been there. It's cool.' ”

Given Cambodia's modern history, Sihanoukville's resurgence is remarkable. In the 1960s, the government decided to develop the half-dozen gorgeous white-sand beaches that surrounded the port of Kompong Som, which was renamed Sihanoukville after Norodom Sihanouk, the prince at the time. The wealthy built houses along the sea, and magnificent hotels went up. Then came the Vietnam War — its last battle was fought off Sihanoukville on the island of Koh Tang, in 1975 — and the rise of the Khmer Rouge, which murdered most of the coast's elite along with almost everyone in the country with an education: 1.7 million in all. The Khmer Rouge renamed Sihanoukville Kompong Som once again, and it soon fell into ruin.

The faded remains of war and genocide are still evident. Bullet-pocked facades of once-grand houses surrounded by frail iron fences are scattered among the new hotels and guesthouses; some of these are being renovated and restored. But on diving trips to Koh Tang and the other gulf islands with hidden coves and untouched first-growth forests, there's no sign of battle. The water is calm and clear and teeming with life, and you have only small fishing boats to compete with in the open water. At least for now: the government has begun opening these 61 coastal islands to development, much to the chagrin of environmentalists.

One is already being razed to make way for a big Russian-financed hotel.

For the moment, despite the two luxe resorts, most of Sihanoukville's foreign visitors are backpackers who stay in $20-a-night guesthouses and hang out at beachfront seafood shacks where the grilled squid on skewers is fresh and beers cost 50 cents. At night they head to the popular open-air club Utopia, to drink beer, smoke ganja and sway to house music. Just after midnight, a 25-year-old Bostonian, Bing Lyons, who had logged a number of consecutive nights at Utopia, shouted above the music to me. “The life here is so awesome I don't know whether I'm going to go crazy from it or be better from it,” he said. “The weather is really warm, the sand is really soft, the people are really great, it's amazing. It's one big party. You know, Thailand, like, 10 years ago?”

Cambodia, like, 80 years ago is just a couple of hours' drive along the coast in Kep, where the French colonialists established a beach retreat during their rule here in the first half of the 20th century. They built mansions on the hillsides to catch the gulf breezes, and as in Sihanoukville, the villas' skeletal remains and shot-up facades are an eerie reminder of the past. Those houses are now being turned into luxury residences and hotels, and new compounds like the colonial La Villa de Monsieur Thomas and the modernist Knai Bang Chatt demonstrate what the future of high-end tourism on the Cambodian coast might look like.

Although the beach in Kep is less spectacular than those around Sihanoukville, the town has a particularly appealing, slow-paced charm. There's not a lot to do but relax, go down to the waterfront to eat the famed local crab (grown exceptionally tasty by their life spans in the nearby mangrove swamps) and explore the abandoned old villa of Sihanouk, on a promontory overlooking the town, which has been left to mischievous monkeys.

From Kep you can also take a day trip slightly inland to the town of Kampot — with its own yellow-and-white French colonial buildings and riverside cafes — and the Bokor Hill Station. Built by the French in 1922 at 3,200 feet, Bokor has a Catholic church, a casino, a school and other buildings, all completely abandoned since 1972. Rangers from a small station patrol the area, which is a national park, trying to keep ahead of poachers chasing the mountain's tigers, deer and other unique wildlife, including 230 species of birds. (The last tiger was spotted in 2004.) “Keep quiet,” urges a sign at the park's entrance, “and you will hear the sound of a beautiful bird chorus, flurries of a colorful wing.” There's talk of restoring the casino or creating an eco-tourism refuge here, but for now, the pitted and long, unpaved road keeps it mostly unexplored.

Of course, development will come to Bokor eventually, and all along the coast. Sihanoukville's airport runway is currently being extended 1,300 feet to accommodate jets, and there are plans for a further extension to allow international jumbos. A few more beachfront luxury hotels are on the drawing board, and leases for five of the offshore islands have already been signed. There's even the possibility of a major oil find in the Gulf, which could take things in an entirely different direction. “They have big plans for 10 years down the road,” Pierre Bernard of the Sokha told me, speaking of the Cambodian government's ideas for the coast. “I hope we are going to develop it in a decent manner. If we have the possibility to do it right from the beginning, we should do it.”


Getting There And Around:
From Phnom Penh, it's roughly three and a half hours to the southern coast. You can pick up a bus in the capital at the central market (about $4 each way) or have your hotel hire you a private taxi ($40 to $55). To venture around on the coast, your resort can arrange a motorbike rental ($5 a day) or you can engage a taxi; avoid the moto-taxis, which tend to fleece tourists.

Independence Hotel The top beachfront choice in Sihanoukville in the 1960s has been given a stylish redo. 011-855-34-943-300;; doubles from $110. Sokha Beach Resort Sihanoukville's high-end standard-bearer, on a lovely stretch of beach. 011-855-34-935-999;; doubles from $200. The Beach House Small guesthouse overlooking Kep beach. 011-855-12-240-090;; doubles from $30. Knai Bang Chatt Three luxe modernist villas, on Kep beach. 011-855-12-879-486;; doubles from $350. La Villa de Monsieur Thomas Restored colonial villa with bungalows in Kep. 011-855-12-170-2648; doubles from $30. Veranda Natural Resort Sixteen bungalows on the hillside overlooking Kep. 011-855-12-888-619;; doubles from $20.

Sihanoukville has restaurants for every taste; among the best is the seafood place Treasure Island (Koh Pos Beach; 011-855-12-755-335; entrees $6 to $8). In Kep, don't miss the Crab Market by the water, for fresh seafood cooked on the spot for a dollar or two.